Duke back; so is Loftus

The Baltimore Sun

When walking off the field last year after the NCAA championship game at M&T; Bank Stadium, Duke goalie Dan Loftus didn't think as much about the loss to Johns Hopkins as he did about his teammates.

"I thought about having played with some of the greatest players ever at the highest level," Loftus said. "It was a great experience, and I had no idea we were coming back."

Top seed Duke (18-1) is back again, and so is Loftus, as the Blue Devils prepare to meet No. 5 Johns Hopkins (10-5) today in the national semifinals.

In a final four that features some of the most explosive offenses in the game, Loftus might be the main reason Duke wins the championship.

"He's the best of the four remaining goalies," ESPN commentator Quint Kessenich said. "He definitely gives Duke another edge."

It's a big edge. Normal college goalies can have a save percentage around .500, as Syracuse's John Galloway and Virginia's Bud Petit do. Hopkins' Michael Gvozden has shown steady improvement throughout the year and has a save percentage of .591.

But Loftus is at .628.

"He has been tremendously consistent since Day One," Duke coach John Danowski said of his senior goalie. "He has terrific hands. And when you get above the 60 percent mark, you've had one [great] year."

Loftus tends to get overshadowed by Duke's prolific offense, which averages 15.2 goals. He is an afterthought behind star attackmen Matt Danowski and Zack Greer.

But Duke's offense thrives on the transition game, and if you look closely, the person starting most of those fast breaks is Loftus.

He's a goalie version of Magic Johnson.

"The kid doesn't rattle," Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. "He makes the saves, but not only does he catch the ball, but he makes sure he starts the break. When you talk about containing their offense, he has to be part of the game plan."

Loftus just doesn't throw with accuracy. He has great vision. His eyes and feet are always moving, always prepared to make that quick outlet pass.

Loftus was a point guard on his high school basketball team in Syosset, N.Y.

"It's the same responsibility I had in basketball," Loftus said. "You have to get in the flow of the game and know where guys are, or direct them to where they are supposed to be. I take full responsibility of the clears, the ones that work and don't work. Good goalies aspire to handle the ball."

Loftus isn't flashy, and he isn't going to dazzle you with his footwork out of the goal. He is more like a New York traffic cop at rush hour using his body language and verbal skills to direct his teammates.

"I think his No. 1 strength is his demeanor," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "He doesn't get too high, and he doesn't get too low. When he makes a great save, he acts like he has been there before.

"When he gives up one he shouldn't have, he lets it go and goes back to work. Duke's style is to take some risks, so it's important to have a guy like that back there."

Loftus acknowledges that he has plenty of help in front of him in close defensemen Mike Manley, Parker McKee and Tony McDevitt. The Blue Devils have two good long-stick midfielders in Ryan McFadyen and Nick O'Hara.

Their job is to pressure the other team's offense, create turnovers and get the ball back to the offense.

"Dan's knowledge of the game is tremendous," Danowski said. "He positions himself really well. We don't need him to be spectacular. We just need him to make the saves he is supposed to make. If he is spectacular, then we've failed clearing the ball or the offense is committing a lot of turnovers."

According to Pietramala, Loftus has had an excellent season considering it's hard for him to find a rhythm. Duke is a team that relies on runs, and the Blue Devils can score goals in bunches. Duke has outshot opponents 830-552.

Loftus, though, will face his share of shots this weekend. Virginia and Syracuse love to run and gun.

Hopkins plays a more disciplined style, but the Blue Jays have some great shooters.

"With most teams, you can take one player out of the equation and have an effect on a team," Loftus said. "With Hopkins, they all shoot with great velocity.

"I'm kind of looking at this as a second last chance. The only pressure we have is the pressure we're putting on ourselves. We've played loose all year, and I don't think that's going to change. Walking off that field last year made me proud of my teammates because we had been through so much. Regardless of what happens, this has still been a great experience."


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